Life is sometimes best shown in the obscure

Written in 365 Parts: 116: Tailing the Quarry

The visitor to the survival tent was both cautious and careful. They had led the drones on a merry dance across almost the whole length of the continent. The vehicle the quarry was piloting was equipped with stealth technology and body alteration machinery. Everytime it joined heavy traffic, as it entered and exited the two main population centres, it switched colours at the first opportunity. Long overpasses, tunnels, or under-highway sections were the best locations. It altered both identification and shape when in areas of low observation.

The watcher made sure to monitor local cameras and judiciary monitors, and noted, with little surprise, that they were either non-operational or entered self test modes whenever the vehicle did one of its costume changes. To further complicate matters, the driver used the under-city parts of the main population centre with the habits of a seasoned professional. Using tunnels and low walkways, backroutes and gang runs that were dangerous to the casual driver and bereft of camera or judiciary oversight. Locations that were unobserved by everyone was a good chance to check for tails, and to lose any unwanted observation. Had the watcher not been in close communication with additional help the quarry would have evaded them and the drones.

This was not the case. Although it had been over forty hours since the airstrike that had eliminated the survival tent the quarry had not been out of observation range for anything greater than a tenth of a second. The watcher was fairly certain that they hadn’t evaded them and that this was the person who met them in the tent.

Finally the vehicle entered the city at a sensible speed as a non-descript grey transport vehicle. It was registered to a local hire company that could be traced back to being owned by a series of subsidiary companies. This was not that irregular, there were only two big vehicle combines in the system. It was easy enough to hide specialist vehicles in offshoot organisations and only have them used by select clients. It was a tactic the judiciary also employed, primarily for governmental undercover investigations. 

The vehicle was left in a parking lot, long stay, a quick overlay from one of the drones showed it being put into the annual slots. So they obviously had this craft on a semi-permanent basis. That information was filed for later investigation into the long term parking areas of the planet. Always good to know where things could be hidden, and used without attracting undue attention.

The quarry had used the forty hours driving around, likely the vast majority on auto-pilot, to make significant changes to their own physiology. They were now clearly displaying as a male with almost no visible body hair and an exotic mix of gang tattoos. They were taller by at least six inches and had more body mass. 

They were dressed in rough street clothing, a t-shirt that would have made a vagrant look badly dressed and uncouth. A striped green and purple jacket that had been patched a number of times, and was displaying at least four illicit tags, banned in the upper city for their offensive nature. Yellow, plastic work pants, likely water and chemical resistant, and polymer boots in a bright blue further brought the outfit into disrepute.

They quickly made their way to the nearest gravity tube and passed the ident over the scanner. Good. This had been anticipated and the watcher had already instructed the support team to access all local public transport systems. The computer experts being used were amongst the best and they would have access to low level readers in the nearest couple of city blocks. There was a moments wait before the ident of Xavier Minch flashed onto their screen. A lifetime ganger born and raised at below street level. They had no fixed affiliation but they did pay their Union fees so were able to move around with little molestation aside from that which they brought upon themselves in the course of their lifestyle.

The watcher re-keyed the drones to follow Minch and the public transport, making sure to send some drones ahead to watch the various stops on the gravity tube. They contacted the rest of the team and instructed them of the next stage of the plan. If they got their guess correctly Minch would head as far down as possible, maybe level one or two and then hang out at a Union protected location. It is what they would do. It was the most logical thing for the quarry to do. And the watcher dearly hoped that they would do such.

Written in 365 Parts: 115: Psychological Reaction

“So easy questions then,” Drick opened a small drawer and grabbed a polymer jumpsuit pulling it from its sealed pouch. Drick flicked the colour to a neutral grey and detached the dye unit. The outfit unfurled easily and inflated slightly as the supercompression of vacuum sealing was negated by atmosphere. Drick quickly started to pull it on.

Drick noticed from their peripheral vision Marsh trying not to look at their form as Drick dressed, but his eyes occasionally wandered. Drick checked their muscle tone and shape in the mirror and then flicked an internal screen to show a representation of themselves from Marsh’s viewpoint.

Trim waist, but that was more down to food supplements and a strong love of running. Wide shoulders, but not broad, from regular workouts with weapons and fighting styles. Well defined ribcage with strong upper muscle structure, more of the fighting styles bonus. Legs were tight with muscle from the running and kick-boxing fascinations. 

Overall a well defined body structure. However Drick was slight, less than one metre sixty-five in height. There was also the fact that from a certain angle the upper body structure looked more feminine in muscle tone. There was no specific design in this, an accident of training and preference. Drick kept themselves trim and focussed on muscles that gave them more punching thrust and supporting lift in the upper arms, this built up the groups of muscles fore and aft of the upper rib cage. From the side Drick imagined it might give a traditionally more female body sculpt. 

Drick raised an internal eyebrow and felt themselves pursing their lips. It was slightly surprising they were thinking in this manner. But it hadn’t been the first time recently. For the sake of curiosity Drick pulled up detailed analytical statistics for their internal chemical balances. There were spikes in dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin and serotonin when they were in Marsh’s presence. These had been increasing as Drick had been interacting with him on a greater basis. 

Drick would have growled if it was someone else telling them these things, but they couldn’t ignore the reactions of their own brain. They knew that there was some base level attraction, it appeared to be growing. The chemical reactions and the feeling of tension when thinking about him were evidence. As was the over-protective stance. Drick should have realised this earlier and suppressed it. It was just a psychological reaction based on the tension and uncertainty. Marsh had natural good looks, and was charming with his sweet little-boy-lost naivety. It was easy to feel protective and then attracted to such things, it was an organic condition.

All of this was a side-effect from Marsh needing so much help. It was the puppy reaction, nothing more. Next Drick would have to fix him with a collar, rub his tummy and take him for long walks in the desert. Drick flashed a signal to have hormone suppressents sent to the room and turned their attention back to getting dressed and dealing with Marsh.

Marsh was sat on the bed looking at the window, which was actually just a projection of a window onto the resin surface of the wall. It looked real enough and had haptic sensation. So it could be cool, and almost moist to the touch if required, it would even simulate condensation if the temperature shown outside was cooler. “Easy questions was your que to speak, Marsh.”

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. Part of me wants to tell them to go to hell. I mean they were part of whatever this is. This plan that has multiple me living, and probably dying. Then the rest of me wants to see them. To have an attachment that is real here. An actual mother. I know they were a surrogate. But here that’s not just unusual it is almost an impossibility. Everyone is grown in a tank. You have people who ditch their bodies if they can afford an upgrade. Almost everyone can afford some form of augment, or has an augment for the purposes of a career. Everyone has those groovy identification images that play on your flesh. Everyone has implants and connections to vast stores of potential things to do. Having a connection is special here. It is pretty much unique. I would be a fool not to have that affect me. And where I come from, the person who gave birth to you, is always going to be your mother, even if you have more than one mother in your life otherwise.”

“I think you have your answer.”

“Do I?”

“Yes. Let’s go and get some breakfast with the option of spirits to enhance it. Best to have food, be comfortable and try to relax. I will then get your mother.”

Written in 365 Parts: 114: Rude Awakening

The cannister was almost empty, but the precious oxygen was almost in reach…

The lights came on automatically. The proximity alert sounded for a person approaching the door and Drick sat bolt upright in the bed. The sheets fell down around Drick’s waist as they stiffened in surprise. There was a flash and a chime as someone touched the courtesy call outside the doorway.

“Enter,” said Drick and flashed an alert to the room sensors to put the lighting to dim. A hand readied the small plasma ejector that was in the thigh holster, bringing it out to point at the doorway from under the covers.

The doorway opened and Drick made out the shadow of Marsh before the programmed lighting effect lit them clearly while leaving the room in a haze. Always disorientate anyone walking through a doorway. “What’s the matter, Marsh?” asked Drick.

“Can I come in?” The voice was soft and a little hesitant.

“Sure,” Drick flicked the weapon back into its holster and signalled the room to put the light to ambient evening. Drick got out of the bed. They were naked and they noted that Marsh averted their gaze. “You don’t have to, you know?”

“I know,” he said, “I guess it is a programmed response. The me, this me, is based on, would respond this way.”

“Really, “ Drick was pulling on cotton shorts and a vest top. “Why? I thought they were ex-military?”

“They were,” Drick noticed a slight blush, “we still only had semi-mixed barracks and clearly defined, if sometimes self-declared, gender divisions.”

“Well, that’s fine for a regimen. But in society, was it still really that way? Also I have no clearly defined gender. Is that an issue?”

“In some places society still had a problem.” he looked around the room quickly, “not for me, obviously, though since I said call me he…” Marsh left the statement alone, he smiled and made a slight cough of nervousness? “I have no issue. As for gender, well it’s a part of things but it isn’t everything that makes up a person. I guess you all have moved past that, but in my time, or the time I am made to be from, sex and gender and who you were, they were still wrapped together like melted toffee. People didn’t know how to separate attraction of a person from desire entrenched in physiology. The fluidity wasn’t there. Begs the question though, do you have any monogamy, or long term mono relationships?”

“Sure we do, in fact we have as much as any other form of relationship. I am not an expert but I suspect everything is represented in one quantity or another, we just don’t have any reliance on any one being superior or a normal. Not even a comaniality. Depends on location sometimes, or the latest media sensation.”

“Anyway, not a problem, just being me I guess.” He laughed but Drick could hear the nervousness, he was trying not to offend. Not that he held a contrasting opinion, but that he was unsure of what was right. 

“Going to fill me in on what that means then? Is this why you woke me up? I am really not an expert. Or is there something else, you did wake me from a rather challenging dream.”

Marsh stared at Drick for a few moments, “maybe I am not the only one who should elaborate. You okay?”

“If that means, am I good, then yes. If it means that I have a rather annoying residual memory, then also yes. If it means do you want to talk about it, then get the heck out of here. Why did you come?”

“Residual memory?”

“Ignore it. A long time ago, a bad event on a space vessel, seems to be haunting me recently. It isn’t an issue. Why are you really here?”

“I don’t know what to do.” Marsh sat on the bed.

“About?”

“Should I talk to the person who claims to be my mother?”

Written in 365 Parts: 113: Desiccated Popsicle

Drick tumbled lazily in a slightly off motion which meant they were not only spinning on the axis of their upright body but along the axis of their arms. The effect was disorientating and likely to lead to a new pattern on the inside of the visor titled ‘too much hint of vomit’. Drick quickly darkened the visor screen and closed eyes to look at internal sensors. That was much better. Without the visual data they may as well have been motionless. In this environment only the visual senses attempted to assert a sense of upright.

Drick assessed the situation in the hope of working out a solution. They had decided to be as dispassionate as possible, utilise their training, not swear any more than was absolutely warranted by the current predicament which limited it to a string of blasphemous phrases for every sentence. 

The oxygen bottle, that had been discarded to use the harpoon weapon, was floating just metres from reach. It was tumbling towards them slightly but the best hope for an intercept of position was seven hundred hours away. That was a problem.

The vessel was outside of radio range and that itself meant little as their was radio silence from the moment before the insurgents attack. Clearly they had damaged the comms first. So by the time anyone reconnected, assuming they were friendly, they would still be out of range of the suit. However Drick did activate all the suit comms units, and the emergency beacon, as sometimes the massive dice of luck rolled in your direction.

The nearest inhabitable region of space was a mere three light years from the current position along the current trajectory, at the suits current velocity, and it was fortunate that there were no forces that would intervene with Drick’s course, the closest approach to a potential beacon was just one hundred and fourteen years from now. On the plus side the beacon on the suit was good for a few thousand years so someone might pick up the dessicated popsicle that Drick would be, by then.

The suit was mostly intact. There was a rip in the outer surface that had not penetrated the inner latex layer or the tight polymer weave below that. All the layers were pressure tested, so this was not an issue. Drick had some patch glue in a pouch, so this could be repaired. Drick scheduled it as a task to do once they had reached the state of surviving beyond minutes.

The immediate issue was the impending death from lack of oxygen. This was inevitable in fewer than nineteen minutes. The oxygen tank that had been used to bash the insurgents helmet floated lazily nearby. From the scanner report, and the lack of it spinning around at high speed, or speeding off in a random direction, it was likely to be still pressurised without leakage. It was ultra compressed liquid oxygen, with the recycler it would give Drick close to sixty hours of atmosphere. If Drick induced a medical coma it would give over two hundred hours of atmosphere. If Drick had a full suspension unit then they could last for centuries. Pity the last one wasn’t floating nearby. Two hundred hours however, beat by some distance in time a shade over eighteen minutes.

Drick analysed the suit that they had hastily thrown on. It was a standard hard suit, nothing fancy, but the ship wasn’t either. So they had standard equipment. This was actually an advantage. Had this been a movie Drick would have smiled ruefully. They didn’t. They didn’t show any emotion just a recognition that the makers of the suit had done proper procedure. There was an emergency balloon spray in the right hip pocket. Intended to form a patch on a bulkhead or gasket seal. Mostly unimportant right now. The important part was that it was pressurised.

Drick set the internal computer to working out the calculations for angle, trajectory and intercept course while they set to modifying the small canister. It was tricky work. The suit was bulky. The canister was small. The tools were few. The universe was spinning around in a technicolour threat. However the visor could be switched to wireframe display with schematic overlay and cameras fixed to geostationary rotation. The tools were magnetic so couldn’t be lost, and Drick had performed advanced military training in much heavier armour.

Fourteen minutes later Drick was pulsing a modified spray of chemicals, and tumbling, almost haphazardly, towards the oxygen bottle.

Written in 365 Parts: 112: Trajectories

112: Trajectories

When free floating in a vacuum there are few things that are as disconcerting as the vessel from which you had just been ejected moving away from you. If you are not wearing protective clothing this would be the very least of your worries. Tthe sight of the vehicle you came from would be fleeting due to the expansion of your eyes, and the resulting loss of sight from the air inside your blood vessels expanding under zero pressure. The skin however has incredible elasticity and would be unlikely to burst, unlike the schlocky sensovision shorts.

If you were wise, and expecting to be rescued within the first ninety seconds, the greatest chance for your survival in such a situation would be to open the mouth and make sure the oxygen in your lungs could escape. No sense in rupturing the delicate tissue. The air in your mouth would boil away in moments and the intense cold would freeze your skin, but again there are advantages to this. The initial instant freezing would result in a very temporary insulation. Giving you extra seconds in which to be rescued and receive the now vital medical attention.

If, however, you were safely encased in a low pressure suit, such as a modest environment hard suit, your situation in regards to the pressure and cold would be massively improved. The hard suit suffered in regards to the mobility of a soft suit. The soft suit was so called as it was usually a seamless composite outfit, lightly armoured, for use in hostile environments and limited time in high radiation, zero pressure.

The hard suit was often a mixture of layers, each sealed at important joints, in sections giving the maximum amount of movement possible in an outfit that was hardened against high exposure to temperature extremes and instant pressure changes. It was always self-pressurised and came with a variety of attachments, for civilian or military deployment. It also came with oxygen supplies and recycling units.

A hard suit would protect the wearer for as long as their supplies of oxygen, water and nutrition, in that order, lasted. Which was of no comfort if the vessel you had been ejected from was moving away from you. 

There is, as has been demonstrated, almost no friction in space. There might be some inertia issues caused by collisions with objects ejected into your local region, but there is no friction. There is also little to change your trajectory, except via collision. In this manner objects in zero gravity and zero pressure obey, almost completely, the first law of motion. They continue along their trajectory unless compelled by some force to change that direction.

If you are ejected from a vessel due to explosive decompression you will not accelerate rapidly away. This again is the realm of cheap fiction. You will move a distance away from the vessel you recently inhabited but the inertia still applies. You would become a body in motion along the same trajectory as the vessel you left and moving at a broadly similar speed. This assumes that you are not affected by gravity, otherwise the law of motion as mentioned above would be to your eventual detriment.

This was the situation that Drick found themselves in as they tumbled out of the hole in the bulkhead. To their advantage the suit, which had been damaged by the harpoon was still strong enough to survive even zero pressure. But there were bigger issues. The vessel they had just left was changing course as they tumbled gently alongside it. If the gods had smiled on Drick that course would have been towards them. The gods however were busy ruining their life. The vessel was rotating away and accelerating, no doubt to head to some safe haven to repair the massive hole in its hull. Unless it had been taken over. It was irrelevant at this point.

The second piece of bad news was more of Drick’s fault than any random piece of mythic metaphoric deism. Drick had one fewer oxygen cylinders than this suit carried. This was bad news. Worse news was that the suit only carried one. The resulting situation was that Drick had the atmosphere the suit had been currently  pressurised with, and whatever the recycler unit could keep fresh. This was approximately twenty minutes worth of breath, slightly more if Drick slowed their breathing, meditated and calmed themselves to a state of total calm. It would buy them an extra three minutes or so, not quite half an hour until a gasping, spasm filled, expiration.

Drick looked at the oxygen bottle spinning on a broadly similar trajectory to them but over a hundred metres away. It may as well have been a hundred kilometres. The ship had completed a barrel rotation and angled roll. The only plus side to this manoeuvre was that the engines were not directly pointed as Drick, though if they had been death would have at least been mercifully quick. The ship started to accelerate away leaving a trail of debris, and one very annoyed former occupant, drifting at high speed on the vessel’s former course.

Written in 365 Parts: 11: How Did You Find Out?

“This feels like it is going to be real bad news,” Marsh said as the world snapped into focus. Drick was sat on the benches near the wall of the simulator, there was an open bottle in their hand and a small tub, at their feet, was filled with a few more.

“Take a seat and grab a cold drink,” said Drick.

Marsh walked over and plucked a beer from the ice bucket. He snapped the bottle open and tasted the beer, it was refreshing and clean, better than the drinks he had yesterday. “This seems like better beer than usual,” he said taking a seat, “must be bad news. So, am I being canned?”

“What?” Drick raised an eyebrow.

“Kicked off the mission. Look I have been practicing hard. I am not as good as the rest of the team but I am not that far behind. I know the equipment well, and I am starting to get the hang of the suit, and working everything by thought.”

“It isn’t about the mission.”

“Oh,” he shrugged. “I guess that’s something. So it is bad news about me. Go on then, get it over with. It is clearly eating at you and it isn’t going to help me now that I know you have something to tell me. This is just painful waiting for both of us.”

“You’re not quite who you think you are.”

“Well I guess no one is really,” Marsh took a sip of beer. “But I am assuming this isn’t philosophy, so you want to explain that.”

“Okay. To start with I have to warn you that this may all be a version of the truth, a lot of what we have is speculation that we are able to verify as plausible, but the subtlety can be lost in that kind of thinking. So maybe there isn’t a whole truth.”

“Fair. Go on then.”

“You were born in the twenty-second century using the old calendar system, well your intellect and memories were. You were not. You were born thirty-four years and one month ago, on this planet, in a heavily controlled simulated environment and construct program.”

“What?”

“You’re a clone. A very good clone. You are not replicated from a piece of the original Marsh. You were re-created using the same original input material.”

“What does that mean?”

“Drink your beer and grab another, try to chill this doesn’t get any better.”

Marsh stared at Drick, “I might not want the beer.”

“Bloody hell I would,” said Drick and emptied the bottle in their hand. Then reached for another and cracked it open. Drick watched as Marsh did the same. “They have access to the original gametes from your parents. They are able to combine them using slightly manipulated versions that are an exact chromosomal match and program the DNA to be the same as the original.”

“Shit. That’s mad, why, for what reason?” Marsh drank heavily on the beer, “Go on, what’s the rest? I am thirty-two, so clones take as long to grow and learn?”

“No. We could clone an exact replica of you in a few weeks and download your entire brain into it via an implant as complex as the one in your head. It is easily achievable and how many people escape the aging process. Most of the higher class have copies of their minds saved via hourly versioning systems. No they wanted you to develop as if the whole experience was as close to real from what they have of your memories.”

“How do you mean?”

“I think they have some of your original memories. I am not convinced, or yet to discover, if they have all of them. So they have been recreating them, refining and as they let you grow they implant them, allowing you to experience them in a more naturalistic manner. They brought you up in a simulation.”

“Shit. Why?”

“That I don’t know.”

“Do you know how long they would be doing it for?”

“A little over fifty years was the cut off date. At that point you would either have fulfilled, or will fulfill some purpose.”

“How do you know this?”

“You are not the first Marsh they created. In fact you are just the current one in line.”

“What?”

“They needed to not only have you as close to your original as possible but they wanted even the method of birth to be a close match. They found someone with the same biological make up as your parents. They used them to gestate you. Unlike most of all modern lifeforms you were gestated in utero. Again we don’t know why. You are the eighth Marsh to be born from the same womb.”

“Same womb? Where are the others?”

“We don’t know but we have to assume they either fulfilled a purpose, are hanging around getting wrinkly, or any other number of possibilities. For all I know you could be the main course for a very picky bunch of cannibals.”

“Nice. How did you find out this much?”

“Couple of sources. Oh and your mother turned up she wants to talk to you.”

“WHAT?!”

Written in 365 Parts: 110: In the Killing Ground

Drick dropped into the client program that was being used by Marsh. They were not alone in the construct as Boomer’s team was connected to the same environment. Drick monitored their activities via the overview system before dropping into the main construct. The team was running tactical simulations of different environments and fighting conditions, using a variety of weaponry. Marsh must have logged almost thirty hours on the weapons so Drick was keen to see the level of progress.

Drick called up the stats packages that allowed a full dissection of the entire of the team and their performance, and made sure to run comparative reports. Drick raised a, simulated, eyebrow. Marsh’s statistics were good, not off the chart and nowhere close to Drick’s own but the level of progress was impressive. Likely a by product of their entire life being simulated, they responded well to the environment conditioning.

The real test would be in meat space when they would have to deal with organics and not highly specialised computer simulations. Only the highest levels of artificial intellect could mimic organic randomness and responses. Drick noted that Rodero had applied a larger number of intellect based processors and subroutines than the usual simulations. Clearly they had interpreted Drick’s instruction, for a cliff drop approach to fast track learning, literally. That was good, it meant the artificial constructs would be sufficiently different to automated system responses. Though the largest number of systems they would encounter were likely to be robotic it was wise to be fully proficient against a flesh based intellect.

Drick flashed to everyone that they were joining the simulation and appeared in the centre of their group, as they were being attacked by hostiles. The enemy was using a formation that had the team surrounded on all sides. It was englobement with a killing ground.

“Welcome to our little slice of hell.” said Marsh as Drick appeared.

“Seems like fun.” Drick commented, “how is it going?”

“Well it was going well, too well. So the damned system upped the complexity and challenge and now we are fairly hosed.”

“Yeah it isn’t good,” said Drick.

“Is it trying to prove that some scenarios you cannot win?” asked Marsh.

“Probably,” said Drick, “it is likely to have calculated an impossible situation based on your previous performances.”

“Joy,” said Marsh, “so that makes life simple. If we can’t beat them, we leave.”

Drick raised an eyebrow, behind the mask of the combat suit they appeared in, as Marsh took an armour piercing mine from his backpack. He flipped it projection downwards on the floor and then rolled rapidly away. Drick did the same but used an end over end flip to avoid being shot, as their nearest cover was across a field of fire.

A moment after Drick had reached a wall that shielded them from the blast the mine triggered. It was powerful enough to shake the floor and walls, a cloud of dust and debris filled the corridors. Drick switched to infrared while moving towards the hole in the floor which was easily wide enough to drop through. They were not alone as the entire of Marsh’s team took the same route. As Marsh dropped through they set a motion activated explosive on the rim of the hole. On landing they ran at high speed with the rest of the team following.

They made fifty metres before the blast triggered and a wave of energy lifted them all and sent them flying along the passageway. Drick had switched the suit to nullify the effects of gravity so that they could float in front of the wave of force. They noted with interest that about forty percent of the team had done the same, including Marsh. Some others had found cover, only one was left tumbling, cursing as they span.

Suddenly the simulation ended with a mission complete statement and a set of statistics. The construct faded to a firing range simulation. After a moment Marsh hit the un-opaque setting on his visor. “Looks like we won again,” he said.

“Ow,” came a voice from the team member who had tumbled.

Various statements of “you are one mad ass,”  came from the rest of the team which Marsh took with a gleeful smile.

“What’s up Drick?” he asked.

“We need to talk, and drink, you are definitely going to need to drink while we talk.”

“Hey it can’t be that bad, we did well in that situation and I think I have improved.”

“It’s not about the simulation,” said Drick, “see you in meat space.” Drick logged out of the construct.

Written in 365 Parts: 109: You Choose People

“You think you have to take him along? Why exactly? What is your reasoning?”

“Well to begin with he seems keen to do something. He may of course change his mind once he learns more about himself. But I have a feeling that he may be more useful than a hindrance. There is the shape of something, I am not sure what I mean by that. He is a key of that I am sure. Keys unlock things. We may have to unlock something, and he may be the key.”

“That’s very tenuous and also highly unlikely. I thought that they reared him until somewhere around forty before using him? So would he really unlock anything now?”

“Yeah, it’s odd that he needs to be around forty, and makes me wonder what exactly age has to do with matters. I still think that he links something and we may be able to gain access via that link. He must have been connected to a remote system, likely an artificial intellect. He was disabled before by having the implant restricted, being enabled now may give us a competitive advantage.”

“Alternatively you could be wildly guessing and risking at the very least his sanity?”

“True. But it isn’t my sanity.”

“That’s a tad harsh.”

“What can I say, I am harsh.”

“Somewhat. But not all the time and not as much with him. Why are you risking increasingly amounts of time, effort and potential danger for Marsh?”

“I have my reasons.”

“As do we all. But you are asking us to share that risk.”

“I know. But you are being paid and you can still walk. I may not like it but if you insisted I wouldn’t stop you.”

“Well, that may be true. But it is also irrelevant as I think you already know that those people you choose to be close to you, are that close precisely because they would never walk away from you once you asked them to complete something. We are all bitten by the same bug, as the cliché goes, run by the same mechanisms. You are a good judge of character and situation. I have never known you to be flippant or casual; in fact you are always purposefully provocative, considerate and cunning. So you are still asking.”

“I know the risk is worth taking.”

“Yes. I think that you do. I also think there is more that you are not telling me at this time, Drick. I realised once again, while engaged upon errands for you, that I know so little about you. I mean we have a history, it goes back over fifty years to when I was a very green public defender, you know a great deal about me. Yet, in all that time, I have learned little more than what I knew fifty years ago. I know you age spectacularly well. I know you take the most challenging cases and make them look easy. I know you appear to have a hard edge and a fatalistic attitude with little regard for organic life. Yet I also know that is a screen and most of it is a misdirection. So I think you know exactly what you are asking of people. I think that you specifically choose who to ask and when. I think you create people a little, mould them by your influence.”

“Well that’s an interesting assessment.”

“It’s just a passing fancy. I was just wondering what type of person I would be if I hadn’t met you, and I think I wouldn’t enjoy my own company as much as I do.”

“You claiming I made you a better organic?”

“No. Not directly. Perhaps it is that the exposure to so much shit has made this particular flower blossom.”

“Nice. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. So what are you going to tell Marsh?”

“The truth. A percentage of it, not all of it. But the truth. I just got the medical screen back from Rodero. That’s his mother, he deserves to know and be given the choice of whether to see them.”

Written in 365 Parts: 108: Tell Them or Don't Tell Them

“What do you intend to tell them?”

“Him?”

“Pardon?”

“He has made it clear that he is more comfortable with being referenced, and identified, as him for the moment. There were still strong socio-cultural distinctions concerning biology and identity from the period in history that he is familiar with. I think some more time to adjust and reframe concepts is required. It’s understandable, the technology to allow the fluidity we all enjoy wasn’t as readily available, and I imagine in many groups acceptable. So using a singular pronoun is more familiar.”

“Good to know. For now. I guess that request was made explicitly.”

“Yup, right after I kicked his ass in the simulator for, I don’t know, something like the fortieth time.”

“So, how do you intend to tell him?”

“What, that his life is a lie? That he is a really expensive clone? That he is not the first one? That he has been imprinted repeatedly for centuries? Or that his mother, their mother, and that’s not a genderless their, it’s the fact that there has been many of him. Their mother is outside and dying? Well, I thought I’d just say; hi Marsh, you’re a clone and your dying mother wants to say hello. She’s in the next room!”

“That seems rather abrupt?”

“Honestly Krennar, you think?” Drick let out a sigh, “I honestly don’t know how to tell him. I am not sure I believe it myself. I have Rodero running checks but so far what they have told me pans out. The person identifying as Marsh’s mother is who she says she is. She has the resources to be able to do a lot. We are going to have to check out the whole story. I would like more information before I let them talk to Marsh, but they are becoming increasingly intransigent. Added to that, I am not sure how much longer I want to keep Marsh in the dark. I also have a raid to plan. And I haven’t heard from two of my most important contacts. So, I have no idea how the rest of this job is progressing.”

“Well it seems you are in a little bit of a quagmire.”

“Do you have any helpful advice?”

“Yes. Invest in time travel technology and go back to a point before you started this stupid enterprise and stop yourself getting involved.”

“Anything a little more achievable?”

“Not really. There really is only one choice. Tell them or don’t tell them is just a scale. Once you are committed to this path it is a choice of how much you say and what level of truth it contains.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. How is his training coming along? Will you be taking him with you?”

“I don’t want to, but I think that I have to. And his training is coming along very well. In fact better than I could have ever hoped. He is a fast learner and he is very enthusiastic.”

Written in 365 Parts: 107: Observation

They looked at their internal chronograph even though their first thought was to vomit. Thankfully they were able to hold that sensation as it would have been messy inside a pressure suit. The readout stated they had been unconscious for fifteen minutes.

Gingerly they opened their eyes and looked around. There was a light smear of blood on the inside of the suit plexiglass, they had a vague memory of the suit buckling towards their face. They ran a diagnostic on the suit and a quick rundown of medical status via vital signs. The suit was damaged and had lost twenty percent integrity but was otherwise fine. A visit to a repair shop for seals and pressure checks would be needed. The medical stats said that they were within standard levels based on their history, though suffering from mild concussion. There was no significant damage or blood loss.

They checked the status of the emergency bubble. Despite being blown downwards by the incredible pressure of the blast it was still intact. The outside temperature was well above two hundred degrees centigrade but was rapidly cooling. That had been a significantly larger missile strike than they had been expecting. They had thought this plan with its heavy reliance on a secure shelter was over-compensating, that was wrong.

They quickly connected to the uplink they had hidden in the desert one hundred metres away. The device took a short time to connect as there was tremendous static. That was again to be expected considering the size of the blast. Once they had a secure link they ran a full connection status including pulling the views from the stealth drones that had been circling the plateau high above. 

They watched as the video showed the strike from a multitude of angels. Whomever wanted them dead was willing to make damned sure that there was nothing left. Oh well that was another small bet that they had lost. But at least they were alive to pay it.

They checked the status of the other drones and a slow smile spread across their features. The first smile for a few days. The drones had been able to follow their visitor back to their vehicle. Even better than that they had been able to follow it as it moved away, they were still tracking it.

The figure unpacked the air shovel and set to work on digging themselves out of their pit.